1949 and 1953: Two Aerial Views Over Panorama City and the GM Plant.






From the USC Digital Archives comes these stunning aerial photos over Panorama City and the large General Motors Plant. The top on is from 1949. And then one taken four years later on January 13, 1953 showing the rapid growth of the area.

Some 15,000 new homes were built in 1953, and some 30,000 new structures added. The vast agricultural landscape was transformed into a suburban, single-family section of Los Angeles, peopled by young families with children.

The map shows that the streets, 61 years later, are still the same. The vast GM Plant closed in 1992 and is now occupied by “The Plant” shopping mall. Panorama City still teems with new arrivals.

Constructing the Valley Municipal Building, 1932

Most photographs of the Valley Municipal Building show the 1933 building after its completion, but here are some, by Dick Whittington Studio as the hole was being dug in 1932.





Statistics and specifications for the completed structure exist and have been cited many times, so I won’t do it here.

Instead, one might look at these photographs and imagine the small town of Van Nuys, self-sufficient and walkable, safe and sunny, sitting in the middle of the largely agricultural San Fernando Valley in the depths of the Great Depression.

Surrounding the t-shaped dig, is a Richfield gas station and The Erwin Hotel, criss-crossed in a vaguely Tudor style.

In contrast to today’s heavily regulated construction, the men are all in civilian clothing-no hardhats, no vast walls around the site, no safety signs. The humble trucks are pulled right up to dirt and a two strips of lumber comprise a fence surrounding the digging.

Laborers, architects, drivers, engineers, photographer; everyone was lucky to work.

With such opening modesty the end product was magnificent, distinguished and proud.
And became that symbol of Van Nuys everlasting.



Griffith Observatory, 1930s






Courtesy of Nathan Masters, I found these fascinating vintage images which the USC Digital Libraries recently added to their Dick Whittington Photography Collection.

They show a family or friends (Dufay?) on what seems to be a Sunday type of outing, in the mid 1930s, up to Griffith Observatory, which had opened on May 14, 1935.

In the midst of the Great Depression, or perhaps because of it, people took care to dress up in dignity and elegance.

Van Nuys: A Look Back.

Van Nuys 1926. Dick Whittington Studios.

Van Nuys 1926. Dick Whittington Studios.

Van Nuys 1926. Dick Whittington Studios.

Van Nuys 1926. Dick Whittington Studios.

Van Nuys 1926. Dick Whittington Studios.

Van Nuys 1926. Dick Whittington Studios.

Another election, another possibility to change the direction of Van Nuys and reorient this community into progress and prosperity.

Over the last 100 years, men and women, with much less technology and money, managed to build, plan, create and civilize a vast, semi-arid valley, a place of schools, homes, factories, industries, churches, women’s clubs and fraternal organizations. A sense of local pride was evident, as seen in these photographs.

When people had less, it seems, they valued what they had more.

Photographs on this page are taken from the USC Digital Archives, CSUN and LAPL.
The 1926 images are from the Dick Whittington Studios now archived at USC.

Van Nuys 1926. Dick Whittington Studios.

Van Nuys 1926. Dick Whittington Studios.

California Bank Van Nuys Blvd/Sylva (circa 1925)

California Bank Van Nuys Blvd/Sylva (circa 1925)

GM Plant on Van Nuys Blvd (circa 1950)

GM Plant on Van Nuys Blvd (circa 1950)


Van Nuys Circa 1945

Van Nuys Circa 1945

Old Van Nuys Women's Club (14852 Sylvan near Kester).  Now Eglesia de Jesuschristo.

Old Van Nuys Women’s Club (14852 Sylvan near Kester). Now Eglesia de Jesuschristo.

Van Nuys Blvd. at Friar (circa 1950). Notice diagonal parking and streetcar wiring.

Van Nuys Blvd. at Friar (circa 1950). Notice diagonal parking and streetcar wiring.

Cindy vs. Nuri

On Tuesday, July 23rd, two women, Cindy Montanez and Nuri Martinez, will face off in a special election to decide the next leader of LA’s 6th District which includes Van Nuys, Arleta and Sun Valley.

After a dozen non-productive and self-destructive years of Councilman Tony Cardenas, the district is still one of the least appealing areas of the San Fernando Valley. Downtown Van Nuys is dying, its post office closed, its shops vacant. The Van Nuys Neighborhood Council is a long-running joke, producing theatrics and anger instead of cleaning up the streets.

Why Van Nuys should continue to suffer is one of the strange mysteries of our city.

It is centrally located, adjacent to North Hollywood and Sherman Oaks, an easy commute to Woodland Hills, Studio City and Hollywood. It is served by buses and three freeways, so it certainly does not lack transportation. On many streets there are stunningly beautiful homes often used for filming movies and commercials.

The downfall of Van Nuys, which was established in 1911, began after WII when regional shopping centers replaced mom and pop stores. The widening of Van Nuys Boulevard and Victory, the elimination of diagonal parking, the ripping down of old houses to make way for large government buildings, the influx of immigrants who were poorer and less educated, the slumlords who bought up apartments and let them decay, the emptying out of legitimate business to make way for pot shops, massage parlors and bail bonds, all of these contributed to the El Crappo aura. And basically El Crappo is all one sees driving along Van Nuys Boulevard.

Whomever wins on Tuesday, Ms. Montanez or Ms. Martinez, both ladies (I like that word) will have to dig in her heels and bring shovel-ready action to Van Nuys, and concentrate with all her might in rebuilding a civilized and thriving district that is no longer the laughing stock of Los Angeles.

New Photos Added to Pacific Electric Railway Historical Society


The great website Pacific Electric Railway Historical Society has added some historic Los Angeles streetcar photos to its eminent collection courtesy of Robert Chamberlin Photo and Richard Wilkens Collection.

ABOVE: Their latest comes from Los Angeles Transit Lines no. 452 on the N Line service.

BELOW: Los Angeles Transit Lines no. 485 is captured on B Line service in this neighborhood location. It’s November of 1948.


Miss Van Nuys: 1960


Back in 1960, the population of the fast growing state of California was 13,465,000. The US Census Bureau estimates that 38,000,000 live here now.

Back in 1960, this woman might have actually lived in Van Nuys, a type now practically extinct with her hips, curvaceous waist, blonde hair and no tattoos.

We’ve come a long way baby and civilization is much more progressed and civilized in the San Fernando Valley than it was back then.

Take a walk around Vanowen and Van Nuys Boulevard if you doubt my word.

Photo courtesy of Water and Power Associates.

Pacific Electric at Barham, 1947

Photographer Robert T McVay captured a fan trip with Pacific Electric no. 1036 on March 23, 1947, at this stop at Barham Boulevard at the Hollywood Freeway. Pacific Electric no. 662 seems to be on regular service and is just passing through the scene.

Robert T. McVay Photo, Norm Suydam Collection

Courtesy of the Pacific Electric Railway Historical Society

Historic Fire Station No. 39


July 15, 1940

July 15, 1940

The Los Angeles Fire Department has a collection of vintage fire company photos.

In the LAFD archives, I found images related to Van Nuys’ Engine Company #39 which has occupied a building or two at 14415 Sylvan St. since 1919.


Chuck Madderom Coll.

Chuck Madderom Coll.

Curiously, it seems that present structure, dating to 1939, is merely an Art Deco remodeling of the original neo-classical structure. I could be wrong, but comparing the two buildings, which are in exactly the same location, seems to indicate this.

In the midst of the Great Depression, a grand and completely modern structure was erected or refashioned for a little over $4 a square foot.

Statistics from 1939:

Date Opened
July 25, 1939

Land Cost

Building Cost

Sq.Ft. Main Bld
Main Bld. 15,004
Garage & Storage 1,256
Hand Ball Ct. 1,122

Sq.Ft. Site 100×140
100×140 14,000

Number of Poles: 3